How should state mask mandate money be used? Lewis County lawmakers weigh in

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 4:56 PM EST
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LOWVILLE, New York (WWNY) - In its last meeting of the year, the Lewis County Board of Legislators got a brief rundown of newly announced state funding.

Counties like Lewis can get up to one million dollars to cover costs from New York’s mask-or-vaccine mandate. The money can be used to pay staff at vaccine and test sites and put together public education campaigns.

District four legislator Ian Gilbert says the board had a different understanding of the funds before Thursday.

“We had initially heard for enforcement of the mask mandate,” Gilbert said

Enforcement is another aspect counties can be reimbursed for. That could be the cost of setting up a complaint line or adding staff to a business to make sure people are wearing masks.

But Gilbert doesn’t want to see a dime of state money used to enforce the state’s policy.

“My view is that that is something that should be left to individual businesses,” Gilbert said. “It should be left to churches. It should be left to the school districts for themselves.”

Gilbert adds that businesses in his district have already expressed concerns about the mandate.

“I don’t doubt the efficacy of mask wearing,” Gilbert said. “But, if you have a business where the workers are going to refuse to do it, or the customers will refuse to do it, that’s going to hurt the local business.”

Legislators Andrea Moroughan, Phil Hathway, and Lisa Virkler agree the money shouldn’t be used for enforcement. All three say they want more details from the state.

“If the state is going to offer some flexibility on how that aid can be used, then I would want to talk to my other legislators to see if there are ways to kind of funnel that money into our efforts that are working and that we do support,” Gilbert said.

It’s not certain when that guidance will come down from Albany, but Hathway says the money could be a very good thing.

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